Interview: Blake Simpson

Blake Simpson - Landscape Photographer -

Blake Simpson

Landscape Photographer

Tell us a little about yourself (who you are, where you are based, what you shoot, etc.)

I am based out of Southern California and started practicing photography about five years ago during my senior year of high school. I mainly take photos of natural landscapes, whether grand or intimate in scale. For me, the natural world offers me a place of quiet freedom where I can let my mind and body roam. It is in this state of flow that nature provides me that I am most inspired to create.

How did you get into landscape photography?

Though as a child I didn’t have much experience camping or traveling far, I did visit my family on the Oregon Coast every Summer and always felt at home there. My strongest memories of youth involve wandering along the rugged coastlines and through the coastal forests. As I got older, my focus shifted towards balancing my academics, my wrestling and martial arts teams, and my social life. Any time I would begin to feel overloaded or stressed, I’d hike out into the local hills with nothing but my thoughts and my camera – it was and still is the perfect outlet (though it has transformed into much more than this for me).

Blake Simpson - Landscape Photographer -

Blake Simpson - Landscape Photographer -

Where did you grow up? Has your childhood affected your photography at all?

I was born in Southern California, and apart from a few years living in Northern California as a child, I have lived here my whole life. More significant to my pursuit of photography perhaps, I spent every summer of my childhood visiting my grandparents and family in Yachats, Oregon, a small town along the central coast.

Some of my strongest memories from my childhood were made with my grandparents on the Oregon Coast – exploring small lakes nestled in the woods to find the best fishing spots, strolling along the foggy beaches searching for agates and sand dollars, and playing with the other local kids as we’d run through the trees. I believe these experiences sparked my love for wilderness exploration and shaped my affinity towards specific photographic subject matter.

Have you had any formal training in photography?

I took a yearlong photography class in high school simply to fulfill a mandatory elective requirement. Though I went in having no serious goals and didn’t take the class too seriously, I ended up really looking forward to the class as it gave my mind an escape from the mundane daily life and allowed me time to explore the surrounding hills of my campus with my friend. Besides learning the basics of how a camera works and ultimately insignificant rules such as the rule of thirds, most of my development as a photographer has come in the years following due to trial and error in the field, studying the works of other artists, and seeking out mentorship and tutorials.

Blake Simpson - Landscape Photographer -

Blake Simpson - Landscape Photographer -

What do you wish to convey with your imagery? How do you make sure your images convey this properly?

I am constantly striving to be more personally expressive with my work rather than just showcasing pretty scenes unrelated to who I am as a person. Though the feeling or emotion I am trying to capture varies from photo to photo, it will usually correspond to how I’m feeling at the moment I took the photo or how I’m feeling with my life in general. I’ve always been more reserved in expressing my feelings to others, so photography has become a tool for me to share more of myself without explicitly doing so in spoken word alone. I derive great inspiration from musicians and songwriters who are so open and honest about their lives through song, and I try to mold myself after them in my photography.

What does photography mean to you?

As I have progressed and focused on becoming a better artist, photography has become much less about capturing a beautiful scene and showing it off to others, and much more about listening to the landscape and composing its elements in a way that is somehow expressive of what I am feeling or going through at the time.

Photography has become very important in my life because not only does it serve as a creative outlet for me, but it also allows to connect with and understand the natural world in way that I had never known possible before. For example, where before I began practicing photography I may have noticed a pretty sunset in the sky, I now notice the more intimate components making up the sunset such as the types of clouds in the sky, the way the light interacts with the landscape, and the way the colors and tones shift as the sun moves.

Blake Simpson - Landscape Photographer -

Blake Simpson - Landscape Photographer -

Are there any other genres of photography you practice?

Though my main passion lies with creating expressive photographic art about natural landscapes, I’ve dabbled in all kinds of photography including adventure, portraiture, street, weddings, etc. I’d say the most common genre I practice besides landscape photography is concert/music photography. Music has been a passion of mine years before I took up photography, and though I rarely make my own music anymore, I’m a bit obsessive with the consumption of other artist’s music and seeing them perform live. Though it’s a very different experience photographing a concert than simply observing it (as you have to focus on composing and preparing yourself to capture very short, important moments) it’s still a really fun exercise and creative outlet for me.

What equipment do you prefer to use?

Since taking up photography, I have always used Nikon gear. This was entirely due to my grandpa being a Nikon shooter when the company first introduced a digital camera and me inheriting some of his gear. As of a few months ago, however, I switched all of my Nikon gear out for a Fuji X-T2 and corresponding X-series lenses.

I don’t believe camera equipment plays a huge role in creating expressive work, but the convenience in having a much lighter, mirrorless kit has allowed me to have more fun in using my gear, especially on longer hikes and backpacking trips. Where I once may have hesitated in bring my camera or a certain lens on a trip due to weight and bulk, I now have my camera kit handy at all times no matter the distance I’m hiking just in case inspiration strikes.

Blake Simpson - Landscape Photographer -

Blake Simpson - Landscape Photographer -

Do you travel far from home or stay close more often?

Luckily, where I live, I am within hours driving distance to some very diverse landscapes. When I began photography, most of my explorations came very close to home in local beaches and hills, but eventually I began traveling farther in attempt to see new landscapes and find what I connected with most. Being tied down to living and staying mostly in Orange County (beside weekend trips) lately due to a full-time job, I have come to appreciate the areas of local beauty and wilderness that I never knew existed having lived here my whole life.

I’d recommend to people who are unable to travel far to look for the “green” spots of land on Google Maps (public parks) and go explore them!

When traveling, is there anything you take that is not necessarily photography related?

The first thing that comes to mind is my Thermarest NeoAir X-Therm sleeping pad for any camping trip. I’m a big fan of naps and sleeping, and that thing makes me feel like I’m lying in my bed at home no matter where I’m at.

The other thing that comes to mind is chocolate bars. I’ll never forget a brutally painful winter snowshoe backpacking trip I did, where, after suffering straight up a mountain in the dark wearing borrowed snow clothes that didn’t fit, my friend whipped out a Toblerone bar that made all feel right in the world again.

Blake Simpson - Landscape Photographer -

Blake Simpson - Landscape Photographer -

Should artists sell prints?

I think it’s neither wrong nor right of an artist to sell prints, but simply depends on the person and their goals. As someone who would like to make a living off my art eventually, I realize that one must be very creative and tenacious in their methods of acquiring income. So if your goal is to make money from your art, then by all means, sell prints or do whatever you need to do! I’d suggest learning to print your work manually, experimenting with sizes and mediums, and seeing what best fits your vision.

Do you feel social media has a positive or negative effect on (new) photographers? Please elaborate.

While I think there are users of social media that may have a negative effect on their consumers, I believe social media overall can be a very positive tool for both new and experienced photographers alike.

Personally, since I first started photography, social media has introduced me to the works of many of my favorite artists. It is a place where I often find inspiration and learn about the lives and thoughts of other artists. It also allows me to easily share my work with friends and family.

I hope that we as landscape photographers can use social media to go further than posting pictures that say “look at me” or “look at this pretty location” and go deeper into describing the “why” behind the photo.

Blake Simpson - Landscape Photographer -

Blake Simpson - Landscape Photographer -

How important is having a good website?

I guess it depends on your intention with the art, but for me, it is extremely important.

I recently talked with Eric Bennett about this, and he taught me that your website portfolio is the most important collection of your work - there shouldn’t be a single photo included that couldn’t stand alone to reflect who you are as an artist. Over time, I have become very selective with my work and my perfectionist personality has led me to believe that an image must be “perfect” before posting it to my website or sharing with the world.

It is a constant struggle between wanting to share only the highest quality images versus sharing more moments of my passion. I have been working to overcome this need for “perfection” and just sharing where I am at currently in my artistic journey. One of my current goals is to cull my older and less meaningful work displayed on my website and begin curating galleries/collections of projects that I have been working on.

On a separate note, having a website has helped me acquire both photography related and non-photography related work, so I’d encourage anyone serious about their art to make one.

Do you have any opinion on art galleries? Should young artists strive to be in an exhibit?

I think they’re awesome! I remember going to the Galen Rowell’s Mountain Light Gallery in Bishop, CA for the first time and not being able to leave for hours, I was so enamored by the beautiful collection of lifelong work.

I’d consider myself a young artist and I personally strive to be in a gallery exhibit someday, so yes! I think galleries allow an artist to show a collection of their work that embodies a more impactful meaning when shown together in person than individually on a computer screen. Even more important in my opinion, I believe a gallery opens up a forum for the artist to communicate with an audience and give a deeper meaning to their work (as musicians often do by playing music live at a concert).

Blake Simpson - Landscape Photographer -

Blake Simpson - Landscape Photographer -

If you could only take one more picture, what do you think it would be of? How would you begin to make that decision?

I think my answer to this question will evolve and change throughout my life, but at the moment, the landscape that calls me most is the forest.

I believe that my last photo would come after meticulous exploration and research of this forest setting. It would not simply be a glance at the appearance of the landscape but an insight to the history and being of the landscape with a reflection of how it impacts my life. I would strive to make sure that this photo not only gives a glimpse at who I am but also inspires others to get to know and love the landscape.

Like Ansel Adams and the artists before, I hope it would promote conservation of these wild lands for future generations. Ostensibly, I imagine the photo being of a tree in the forest next to a running stream, with low golden light dappling through the forest’s armor and illuminating these subjects, but metaphorically, the photo would be about much more than this one scene.

Blake Simpson - Landscape Photographer -

Blake Simpson - Landscape Photographer -

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